Gut health and immunity

Who would have thought it? Your immune system in the gut? Research now proves that healthy bacteria and a healthy gut flora are responsible for helping to overcome disease and support immunity.

More and more evidence and science-based research is finding that the ‘microbiome’ in your gut are essential for so many purposes. The ‘microbiome’ is made up of over 100 trillion different little creatures that live and thrive in our digestive system.

Some of these bacteria are not so good and can cause problems, but the beneficial bacteria (known as probiotics) play a role in your health and influence the following:

  • genetic expression
  • immune system
  • brain development
  • mental health
  • memory
  • weight
  • risk of numerous chronic and acute diseases, from diabetes to cancer

This is an extract from Time Magazine and explains the progress that is being made in research:

"Our surprisingly complex internal ecology has been a hot topic in medicine lately. Initiatives such as the human microbiome project two, an extension of the human genome project, have been working tirelessly to probe potential links between the human microbiota and human health, and to construct strategies for manipulating the bacteria so that they work with us rather than against us.

They've been linked to a range of nasty conditions, including obesity, arthritis and high cholesterol. Now, two newer areas of research are pushing the field even further, looking at the possible gut bug link to a pair of very different conditions: Autism and irritable bowel disease (IBS)."

One of the most important areas for people to understand, is that eating a healthy diet rich in foods with probiotics can help to either maintain or improve the gut microbiota. Fermented foods which exist in many other parts of the world – especially in Asia – are brimming with healthy gut bacteria. Foods such as sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, kefir, yogurt (fermented) and Japanese pickles such as kimchi and kombucha. All of these contain more beneficial bacteria than some off the shelf probiotic supplements, so incorporating these into your daily diet will help to support your gut health and immunity.

Some fermented foods are good sources of the Vitamin K2 which is important for preventing build up of arterial plaque and heart disease. Curd cheese (Quark)  and natto (fermented soy beans) are excellent sources of vitamin K2 and eating only 15g per day will be sufficient to maintain optimum levels.

Probiotics (healthy bacteria) are well known for supporting gut health and in particular, immunity. Your gut is your number one defence mechanism when fighting disease. 80% of your immune system resides in your gut, so taking care of the bacteria levels is important for immune health.

Fermented foods are also brilliant detoxifiers and can help to draw out and expel toxins, so daily use of fermented food is great for health maintenance.

One of the worst foods for gut health and immunity is – sugar! Sugar feeds bacteria and allows pathogens and ‘bad’ bacteria to thrive and multiply, meaning that if you are already suffering from some symptoms of digestive health problems or autoimmune conditions, cutting out sugar is probably your first step to improving your gut health and immunity.

Here are some symptoms of a poorly functioning gut:

  • bloating
  • joint pains
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • food intolerances
  • weight gain or weight issues
  • digestive problems
  • skin problems such as acne and rosacea
  • thyroid problems

In practice, I see many clients who come to get support for IBS and ongoing problems with digestive health. Most people have suffered with these problems for years and coped with their own strategies for managing their often debilitating symptoms. By the time I see them, they are suffering with multiple food sensitivities, severe fatigue and in many cases low mood or mood swings.

Leaky gut or ‘intestinal permeability’ is damaged tissue in the digestive lining and creates inflammation and ‘holes’ in the gut. These ‘holes’ are tiny but big enough to allow undigested food particles and waste to leak out of your gut into the bloodstream which in turn causes an immune reaction.

So, developing multiple food intolerances is often a case of leaky gut as the immune system and health of the gut flora become more and more damaged, the immune system cannot keep the battle up any longer.

Autoimmunity develops in the same way. By a constant barrage of antibodies being produced to protect the body, malabsorption of essential nutrients known to protect immune health and digestive system, eventually the body will attack itself and autoimmune disease is the result.

Hippocrates stated, many hundreds of years ago before the benefit of science and research that "all disease begins in the gut".

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Warwick, CV35 7DQ
Written by Andrea Bayles, DipNut, DipHerb, DipNat, MBANT, MURHP, MCNHC
Warwick, CV35 7DQ

Andrea Bayles is a fully qualified nutritional therapist and metabolic balance practitioner (DipNut, DipHerb,ND). She attended the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London for five years. She attended the Institute of Functional Medicine in London in 2012 to further her training and she runs clinics in Warwickshire and West Midlands.

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